Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What's Your Brand All About?

What's your brand all about? No, not your company brand. What does your personal brand represent?

Until recently I never thought I had a personal brand. As a marketing professional I took on the persona of the company that paid the bills (or at least that's what I thought). I've always been selective about the technologies I support. But at the end of the day I projected the company's messages, I followed their informal dress code, and I wrote about topics that mattered to my company's prospects.

Somehow, without trying, I've in fact created a personal brand. And that personal brand is as important to my company, as it is to me. Because the Internet is so pervasive what I blog & twitter are as much a part of my professional persona as what I say at an industry event. What's more, how I say those things gives insight into who I am, and how much credibility I bring to a conversation. And all of those things together make up my personal brand. Your personal brand should come naturally, but not without thought.

If created attentively your personal brand represents a tremendous opportunity to extend your reach, personalize your relationships with colleagues and get more fulfillment from your work.

Keeping this in mind, I've started a list of guidelines for managing my brand identity.

1. Stop. Pause. And Post.
Just like I pause before hitting the send button on an email, I pause before hitting post for on-line mediums. By giving myself a few seconds to review what I've written I've found I insert my foot in my mouth a lot less often. And when that doesn't work, I take blame for my mistake and correct it as soon as possible.

2. Be Myself (mostly)
I believe that your personality is as important as the information you want to share. By being myself I can offer authentic advice and experiences with others. Of course, there are times when being myself means I should be by myself. Honor those instincts!

3. Tell the Truth
Enough said.

4. Be Interested
If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested. Write about things you are passionate about, or at least things that amuse or intrigue you.

5. My Lips Are Sealed
Be respectful of others. If you are told something in confidence, keep it that way. If you aren't sure, ask permission before sharing.

6. Add Value, Don't Instigate
As a young adult I wanted to be a part of every conversation. I would often take the contrary view just to participate. Over the years I've matured and recognized what you say matters more than how many places you talk.

7. I Am Not Who I Work For
While I have an obligation and desire to represent my employer in an appropriate and professional manner, my personal brand is more than just my company's views. Separating who I am, from who I work for, is integral to long term personal brand building. I firmly believe the two can and should live in harmony, complimenting one another.

8. It Takes Two To Tango
My online & off-line worlds are totally integrated. How I act in one place, should be reflected in how I act in the other. If I wouldn't say it at a conference cocktail party, I shouldn't say it in a twitter post.

9. Use Common Sense
Don't let emotions get the better of you. Use good common sense judgement at all times.

Like all policies, my guidelines will evolve over time. In the meantime, its fun exploring new communication vehicles and learning environments.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Are you part of the art department?

I'll never forget the look of shock on my bosses face the first time one of the executive team introduced him as "leading the art department". Mike, my boss, was the Vice President of Marketing for a technology company with a long career and many credentials. While he, like most of my marketing colleagues, is proficient at PowerPoint auto shapes, and can draw a mean stick figure, you could hardly consider us traditional artists.

While the memory brings a smile to my face the general sentiment is dangerous and surprisingly wide spread. I believe that effective marketing is more science than art. And that the most common mistake organizations make when developing their marketing team is to consider it a cost center that can't be measured effectively. Or worse, they devise the wrong set of metrics.

Instead of focusing on a narrow set of marketing deliverables I advise my team to concentrate on a wide range of measures. Here are the ones I've found most important and cost effective to implement.

Brand Reputation - a lot of effort goes into establishing a brand identity for your company/product or service. Just like our personal brands the reputation your company upholds is important to customer acquisition and loyalty goals. Often, organizations think they have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on brand measurement programs. For large organizations this may in fact make sense - after all, you typically have hierarchical management that likes to read long studies. For the rest of us, practical metrics can cost effectively be put in place.
  • Talk to your customers - I know shocking, but you can create simply surveys that ask customers how you are doing. Even better, simply pick up the phone. You'd be surprised how much your customers actually want to tell you.
  • Track social media conversations - even informal scans of Twitter and LinkedIn can give you a good sense of how people perceive your organization. With just 15 minutes a day Twitter search and LinkedIn discussion groups can be great resource to get a gut check pulse on your reputation. If your audience is more Facebook, Digg or YouTube than Twitter go there instead.
  • Ask thought leaders - Industry gurus want to learn about your business and they are willing to exchange a few minutes of their time for more knowledge of your strategies. The biggest mistake marketers make is pitching the whole time, don't forget to pause and ask questions.
  • Meet with internal stakeholders - Once the sales team gets past "I need more leads" what do they tell you about their customer conversations?

Awareness - Does your target audience know who you are? Of course, before you start to measure this you must define who your target audience. Once you've established that it's pretty easy to track.

  • Is your website traffic growing? What is your average visit duration? Did a news event trigger a spike in visitors? This and so much more is available for free using tools like Google Analytics.
  • Establish a list of search optimization key words and periodically test where you show up on search engine rankings. I've found running informal spot checks once every two weeks surprisingly insightful.
  • Track the source for in-bound calls & web inquiries - sometimes we just forget to ask!
  • Don't forget to query those internal stakeholders - what are prospects saying when they call them?
  • What percentage of articles/blog posts relative to your space are you mentioned in?
  • Where do you rank in analyst reports? Are you mentioned at all? Are you positioned correctly? Set goals and measure against them.

Demand Generation - I found it surprising that so few organizations actually track suspect interest all the way to deal closure, and yet this is the most effective way to showcase the value of marketing to your company's sales efforts.

  • Get on the same page with sales - what is your suspect to lead conversion rate? what is marketing programs contribution to pipeline? what is your cost/lead? What sales teams are best at converting leads to pipeline?
  • Create the right product/offer - what messages and solutions shorten the sales cycle? Make the deal size go up? Improve maintenance renewal rates?
  • Does your database measure up? This is a tricky one. Measuring the sheer volume of contacts is an inefficient strategy. Instead you should match your database to target customer goals? How complete & accurate is your profile information? What are your email opt-out rates?
  • How well trained are my sales team? Join them for customer visits - its the best way to tell.
  • What is your caller productivity by telesales rep? Number of calls, length of calls, successful conversion to lead?

Once you know how you measure up against yourself, benchmark your performance against your peers.

  • Talk to your colleagues and find out what they use for metrics.
  • Subscribe to free newsletters like Marketing Sherpa that spotlight industry norms.
  • Take up agencies who want to give you "free assessments" about your performance. I've found this particularly pervasive and valuable for web optimization.

I haven't even touched upon product delivery measures but I think you get the idea. The creative "art" part is important, but its only a piece of the picture. The science of marketing is not about one measure, but about a context driven mindset that combines short and long term objectives. And it doesn't have to cost a lot.

How do you rate your marketing efforts?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Say Good-bye to Youth

A good friend reminded me that today is our 20th graduation anniversary, ouch! After I got over the uncontrolled need to seek out a good plastic surgeon, I started thinking about all of the things that have changed in the past two decades.

Who I am has changed. I am more confident. Perhaps it's because my hair isn't as tall and I almost never wear my trademarked over sized shirts and baggy pants anymore. Suffice it to say, I'm very thankful that digital photography wasn't around in my younger days.

My priorities have changed. I've discovered I actually do need more than three hours of sleep each night. And those awesome shoes that I can hardly walk in aren't worth the blisters; even if I do look hot in them. Instead, I am the mother to four boys. What time and childbirth have shifted physically, has been replaced by love and countless hours of worry. Instead of obsessing about my wardrobe I spend hours contemplating important parenting skills. What's the best way to prepare them for the 'real world'? Will I be able to send them to college? Will they ever stop interrupting me when I'm on the phone?

How we work has changed. Unlike days gone by when information hoarders were king today's successful worker understands how to share. Collaboration is happening everywhere and it is now commonplace for information to be shared across geographic, cultural and generational boundaries. The context by which data is generated is critical during this process, and is often the hardiest element to master. It's where I see most of my professional changes happening in the future.

Despite all of this change some of the most important things remain the same. They still serve soft serve vanilla ice cream with cherry dip at our local ice cream stand. I might not look hip doing it, but I can still rock to 80's hair bands. And the sounds and smells of the ocean can still melt away my worries. Only now, I have twenty years of new friends, four children and dozens of talented colleagues with whom to share the experience. I think that is the best change of all.

What has your ride been like?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Advice for a Retiring Parent

My father retires in exactly 14 days. I know this because he's been counting down with vivid milestone charts for the last two years. After a long and dedicated career in education, most recently as President of International School Services, to say my father is looking forward to having nothing to do, no planes to catch, no long term obligations is an understatement. But after a few weeks I know he'll be itching for new adventures.

While I hear that Sudoku can become addictive, and that Sony has come out with a brain stimulating game for the Nintendo DS I have a hard time picturing my father doing either of those things. So here are some other ideas that can keep his mind fresh and spirit young.

1. Embarrass Your Children - My father has a jump start on this fun activity. For years he's been perfecting the fine art of telling embarrassing stories about my sister and I. In fact, he still brings out the tried and true tale of how I got stuck on a moving sidewalk at the ripe old age of three. Its time to step it up a notch. Now he can make an art of embarrassing the grandchildren. You know do things like show up at their baseball matches wearing a Yankees hat (you should know my children are die hard members of Red Sox Nation).

2. Shamelessly Flirt With 22 Year Old Waitresses - You might want to wait to turn 75 before engaging in this particular activity. That seems to be the turning point when flirting goes from creepy to just embarrassing. Oh, and I reserve this activity for lunches alone when your wife is no where in sight.

3. Take Up a Hobby - I have a hard time picturing my father doing the usual gardening, book club or drinking at the local Chinese restaurant bar. Instead I think he should take up gambling. Not the kind that will wile away my potential inheritance. But perhaps a lottery obsession that gives him something to look forward to during the nightly news. And maybe even the occasional bus trip to Foxwoods.

4. Master the Email Forwarding Technique - There is a lot written about the impact of the Internet on teenagers and young adults. We read about how growing generations of texters, bloggers and Hulu watchers need constant stimulation. What's often overlooked is the ways the Internet has effected our retired community. I like to call it Email Forwarding Syndrome (EFS). With hours of free time retired family members comb through jokes, cartoons and articles that their friends who have an equal amount of spare time collect. Unfortunately, most retires just forward, the forward, of the forward from a friend who forwarded the email. After scrolling through 15 forward messages you get to a joke that could never live up to the anticipation of so much scrolling. If you must get EFS try to limit it to just three forwards a day.

5. Obsessively Watch the Home Shopping Network - Home to thousands of odd holiday presents your family couldn't possibly want. By obsessing about the HSN you can spend hours imagining our faces when we open our pineapple scented back scratchers and politely exclaim "oh, you shouldn't have", secretly smiling with the knowledge that we have to be polite. And this activity comes with a bonus. You get to play lonely old man for the UPS delivery person who must politely hear all those embarrassing stories about your children while you sign for delivery. Because of course, you mark "signature required" for every item ordered.

6. Take Long Walks - Apparently going to the mall an hour before stores open and doing laps is all the rage for pregnant women and retirees. Just don't forget your water. It sells for $2.50/bottle in the vending machines.

On a serious note, I couldn't be happier that my father is retiring. He will be able to attend every Sunday dinner. We'll get our father/daughter breakfasts more than once every two years. And he can finally spend relaxed time with my mother. They both deserve it. And if he should get bored of having nothing to do he knows he can fall back on the six activities listed above.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

So You Think You Can...

I admit it. I'm a "So You Think You Can Dance?" junky. This is somewhat a surprise to me. Generally speaking I don't like contest driven reality show television. I don't watch American Idol, I never tune into the Bachelor and forget about America's Top Model.

I've been thinking about what makes the show fascinating for me. And I think I figured it out. This show is about real talent, pushing limits and having passion that never extinguishes. In an interesting way I like the show because I identify with the participants. While you won't catch me leaping on stage, or doing a pirouette, I love what I do, passionately.

I can't help but wonder if everyone had the passion these dancers share, and mentors who wanted them desperately to succeed, what amazing innovation our businesses could drive.

Kicking & Screaming

I went kicking and screaming into the world of Twitter on the persistence of several great colleagues at Shift Communications. And while it took several weeks for me to understand its value, I finally got it.

In fact, I'm now somewhat addicted. I find myself checking Twitter before I go to bed at night, and its the first thing I do after looking at email in the morning. I even find myself thinking about new ways I can obliterate the English language into barely understandable abbreviations - just to get under my 140 character limit.

During my journey to master Twitter I formulated a few guidelines that if followed can make Twitter an exceptional tool for fun & professional communication.

# 1. There is such a thing as TMI (Too Much Information)
If you chose to follow porn stars, take pictures of your drunken buddies, or describe personal relations with your spouse - don't use your professional persona. We don't want to know that much about you!

# 2. Don't confuse direct messaging (aka DM in twitterland) with email.
DM is designed for witty remarks, defining a spot to meet at a conference, or other quick communication regarding a post. If you can't say it in one 140 character post, or its going to take more than 3 DMs of back in forth discussion - please, use email.

# 3. Size does matter
But not the way you think. For celebrities like Ashton or Oprah having a million followers makes sense. For the rest of us your twitter goal should not be to amass the most number of followers. Your goal should be to amass the most relevant followers. I'll take 200 followers who influence my life & my work, over 5000 random people whom I don't know any day.

#4. Don't forget to listen
Twitter can be a wonderful broadcast tool. A simple vehicle to share good news, ask questions and point out interesting research. But all too many people forget to listen. Twitter is equally good at getting a pulse on your personal brand, your company's customer service and what's happening with your competition.

#5. Go organic
Whatever you do, don't ask someone to RT(retweet which is akin to forwarding for you non twitter readers). Nothing is more of a turn off than someone you follow asking you to retweet, or worse yet, offering you an incentive to rebroadcast your message. The whole point is for organic conversations to take place where people share what is of interest to them. Don't be pushy, let your content speak for itself.

#6. Don't drink and tweet
Don't say anything, I mean ANYTHING, you wouldn't say in a crowded room fully sober. What you say can and will haunt you. Of cource, we appreciate a sense of humor so don't go over board censoring your thoughts.

I hope these guidelines make Twitter an even better place to be.

Your twitter convert,

p.s. You can find me on Twitter @samanthastone